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October 8th, 2011
10:00 PM ET

My Faith: How walking the labyrinth changed my life

Editor’s note: Sally Quinn is a columnist for The Washington Post and is Editor in Chief of On Faith, an online conversation on religion.

By Sally Quinn, Special to CNN

When I tell people I have a labyrinth and that I walk it regularly, most have no idea what I’m talking about.

They think a labyrinth is a maze, a place you walk into and then have trouble finding your way out.

In fact it is just the opposite. A labyrinth is a place you go to get found.

For many, walking the labyrinth is a religious experience. There are many famous labyrinths in churches, the most famous being the one on the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France, which dates to the 13th century.

Others see it as more spiritual. Some find it a meditation tool or walk it simply for the peace and serenity that come from being alone and contemplating a problem or issue.

For me it is all of those things. It is a sacred space.

I first encountered a labyrinth at a California spa about 15 years ago. I’d never heard of a labyrinth before and, though some at the spa said it had changed people’s lives, I was skeptical.

But I agreed to give it a try. There was a ceremony in the evening, with torches and drums, and about 30 of us there to do the walk.

I loved the ritual but didn’t really get much out of it. Too many people.

Still, there was something that appealed to me. So the next day, I went up to the grove of live oaks on the hill where the labyrinth was situated. There was nobody there.

I paused at the entrance and took in the surroundings. There was a slight breeze whispering though the leaves and the late afternoon sun had warmed the circle.

I began concentrating on my son Quinn, who had severe learning disabilities at the time and was in a special school. What would become of him? We had had a particularly difficult year and I was in despair.

I entered the labyrinth and began to make my way slowly toward the center. Once I got there I sat down and looked straight ahead. My eyes fell on a huge pine tree in front of me that I hadn’t noticed before.

It had beautiful spreading boughs, as though it was embracing the circle of the labyrinth. It was one of the prettiest trees I had ever seen and it was the only pine amid the live oaks.

I suddenly experienced a shocking stroke of clarity. That tree was Quinn.

He was different from all the other trees but he was more beautiful than they were. I began to cry. How could I not have realized this all along?

That moment transformed my whole view of my son and of me, along with my attitude toward his problems. Not only was he beautiful but he could use his differences to his advantage, helping others at the same time.

The following year I had a reservation to go back to the same spa. Quinn was scheduled to have cognitive testing the week before I left. At the last minute, they had to change the date for when I was to be away.

My husband convinced me to go anyway.

The hour of his testing I went up to the labyrinth, found my way to the circle and concentrated on Quinn for the whole time I knew he would be doing tests.

Later, when we went back to the hospital for the results, we were not optimistic. Quinn had performed poorly on most of the earlier tests. But the doctors said he had the highest score of anyone they had ever seen on one of the tests.

“What was that?” I asked. “The maze,” said the doctor.

Since then, Quinn has written a book, “A Different Life,” about growing up with learning disabilities (we now refer to them as learning differences) and has launched a website called friendsofquinn.com for young adults with learning differences and their friends and families.

He is happily married and has a full and successful life.

I’m not sure I can totally attest to the fact that this is because of walking the labyrinth that first day. But I can say this: Because I told him about my experience with the pine and the oaks, he decided to make a life using his problems to help others.

He has completely accepted who he is and his limitations and has a sense of humor about himself and his issues. His motto for the site is “own it.” And he has.

Does all this add up to a religious experience? Call it what you will. All I know is that my life has become much richer by walking the labyrinth.

Mine is modeled after the one at Chartres Cathedral. It is a 50-foot concrete circle on a slope overlooking a river in the country southern Maryland, surrounded by woods.

It has a path carved into it leading to the center, which is where I meditate.

I always begin my labyrinth walk by concentrating on something I need to find an answer to. I walk slowly at first, really trying to lose myself in my thoughts. The slowness is important because it gives me time to focus on whatever the issue is.

Once I get to the center of the circle, I start meditating. Sometimes I just stand and look out at the river. I might stay there for 10 or 15 minutes.

Other times I sit cross-legged for an hour or so. There are times, too, where I lie down in a spread eagle position or in a corpse pose, or chaturanga, and close my eyes.

I’ve stayed in those positions for hours at a time, completely losing myself to the experience

For me, achieving clarity is the most important benefit of walking the labyrinth. It has happened so many times that I now expect it.

I can walk in the woods or on the beach for hours, thinking about a problem and not be able to come up with a solution. Yet I can spend 15 or 20 minutes on the labyrinth and solve everything.

Supposedly the folded path pattern on the labyrinth mimics the pattern of our brains. Whatever it is, it works for me.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sally Quinn.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Spirituality

soundoff (977 Responses)
  1. trixen

    Please–for the love of all that is good and holy–tell me your son's name is not Quinn Quinn.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • SCAtheist

      Quinn Q. Quinn? QQQ or Q3?

      October 9, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Kim

      It's possible that "Quinn" is her maiden name, and her son has his father's surname. My son and daughter-in-law named their son in that fashion. I used my maiden name professionally until I divorced–then I started using my married name–partly so that my children and I would share the same surname, but mostly (I admit) to irritate the crap out of my ex-husband's 3rd wife.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Too lazy to Google? Anyone with a clue knows that Sally Quinn is married to Ben Bradlee, who used to be head of the Washington Post.

      Idiots.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:22 am |
  2. ru serious

    ....silly woman, new wave nonsense that she discovered while at an expensive spa in where else but California.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Peace2All

      @ru serious

      So, now we have 'geographical bias'...! Of course, only these kinds of things happen in California, eh...? Sure...

      And, apparently, the lady had an experience that worked for her. May seem strange to you or others... but it worked for her. So what...?

      Peace...

      October 9, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  3. Kim

    The Episcopal Church in my town built a small labyrinth next to their sanctuary. But, I suspect, some of you wouldn't recognize Episcopalians as "Christian" because they don't conform to your extraordinarily narrow definition. Try walking a labyrinth and meditate on Mathew, chapter 7, verses 1 and 2–with particular emphasis on verse 2. "For the judgement you render unto your fellow man is the same judgement God will render unto you. And the measure by which you measure will be used to measure you".

    October 9, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  4. mklsgl

    "Buy my book" – Ms. Quinn.
    "Buy her book." – CNN

    October 9, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • SCAtheist

      "I'm Okay, You're Okay"

      October 9, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  5. SCAtheist

    There has to be some con job here to make some $$. There always is.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • Yourmom

      whatever you say atheistf@g.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • trixen

      @Yourmom Hate speech.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • SCAtheist

      2 slurs in one short statement, congrats.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Aezell

      OOooooooOOOOOooh. He called you a f@g. You better watch out for this one and his scathing intelligence. I'm sure he'll be back for more once middle school recess is over.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • Yourmom

      Hmm, that's not what your mom said last night.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • Yourmom

      @trixen.

      You bet your @ss this is hate speech, you can live long and suck it, oh wait that's right atheists don't have souls so they can't live! HAHAHAHAHHA!

      October 9, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      No, we don't have souls and thus we live far better lives. You accept fairy tales, we accept reality...we beat you hands down...suck it up little one!

      October 9, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  6. SCAtheist

    What a crock. Maybe I'll walk the sidewalk. It's my sacred space, yeah right.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • trixen

      Yeah I have a revelation when I walk the sidewalk. I get this vision–this enlightenment–that homeless people ask me for money if I happen to walk past the quickie mart.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  7. trixen

    I can spend 15 or 20 minutes playing with myself and solve everything too. I give myself a shocking stroke of clarity–usually several strokes, in fact. Afterwards, I'll bet I feel a lot better than she does when she's finished with her labyrinth.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Yourmom

      So you touch yourself at night rather than actually meeting people?

      You sir have no life.

      GTFO nubcake.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  8. Thisisweird

    This is weird, Sally.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  9. gager

    I remember when the only time you heard religious nonsense was in church or some pyscho spouting out loud the voices in their head. Now it's on the front page of CNN where the whole of the reporting loses credibility.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  10. miketofdal

    A beautiful and inspiring story about a woman searching for answers, in an effort to be of service to her disabled son. I applaud any mother who loves her child enough to think of him, to love him, to want the best for him. I'm sorry to see that so many readers have only negative thoughts to share, with respect to this essay. Thank you, Sally, for sharing your thoughts and experiences...and hope. All the best to you and Quinn, Sally, and to your respective families.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • gager

      What she is not reporting is that all her answers are false. Total fail.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • chefdugan

      Well, that makes two of you who believe that garbage, including Sally, What rubbish! I'm sure all of those ordinary people who can't afford to go to a California Spa are going to be the poorer for it. She's a huckster trying to sell her book. As for her son, he might be "ddifferent" but he's still disabled. Changing the wording might make her feel better but he's still disabled.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Alma

      lalo12960 on October 20, 2011 hcnoack game,you could be hcnoack and fly around causing destruction, and the game levels would be completed by saving people,making the city pay for the destruction,you could jump and fly around the city that would be cool in my opinion

      March 4, 2012 at 2:04 am |
  11. Rob

    This woman has got to get a life... I mean a real life. What a pile of utter BS.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  12. Satheesan Kochicheril

    What religions promote are just mental exercises. All problems come to an end if we can regain spirituality. This can be had only by belonging to the System of Life which must be the System of God to those who speak of God. But that is not the case as these religions have their own sacred faiths that have no place in the System of Life. Christ was very categorical about this for he clarified: "If those who lead you say to you, 'See, the kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty." To the System belongs all that we find in Nature including ourselves. There is no need of any alien principles for guidance in life.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Rose

      Yep, all problems come to an end when you're six feet under.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • chefdugan

      You seem to have more BS than Sally. Or maybe you're simply nuts.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  13. Rose

    Just another indulgence of extremely rich people. Walking a labyrinth, how about walking the mean streets of an urban city. Disgusting how the rich in this country don't even understand what's going on with everyone else.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  14. Jack

    Jesus said in Mark 8:36, "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?"

    You can have all the money in the world, the sweetest, most perfect family, no troubles, no enemies, the greatest job you enjoy and the best friends ever. But, unless Jesus is the center of ALL of it – the foundation of your life – it's all worthless. Heaven and hell are real and forever. This life, right now, is our training ground that determines where we'll spend eternity. I'd rather live this life in utter misery, but still have Jesus, than to live this life in utter bliss without Him.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • Believe

      The amazing part is that people find spirituality or have a spiritual moment amongst the simplest of things man-made or natural or a bit of both. It is a moment where you find clarity and if you want to give credit to the journey you are on or to the things around you during that journey is completely up to you. Freedom of the mind is a beautiful thing, and the basis many of our doctrines were written.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Jack

      Ahhh... always good to have a christian start off the day... with the old "believe or burn" dogma.

      Peace...

      October 9, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • CoffeeClue

      I call Bull $$it

      October 9, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • fred

      @Peace2All
      @Jack
      Good morning to both and may your day be filled with joy. As Jesus said to him who much is given much is expected. So Jack you were given the gift to see Gods truth revealed in Jesus and much is expected. Peace2All you have not been given that gift (or elected not to open it yet, but Christmas is coming) so I think God is going to cut you lots of slack. So I thank God for His mercy and grace as that is what we all will receive. What we believe does not change God who’s hands embrace all of His creation.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Fred

      Hey -Fred... Good morning.

      See, I know that if I'm wrong, then I'll have you at the "Pearlies" with St. Peter, putting in a good word for me, and they'll let me in, right...?

      Regards,

      Peace...

      October 9, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • fred

      @Peace2All
      You sure have the part right about me putting in a good word since all we will know is goodness at that time. But, it is best I put in a good word for you now. One of the scariest statements Jesus made was that we will be surprised who is in and who is not. Perhaps that was just to keep me on toes or remind me it is by grace and not anything I can ever do.

      October 9, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  15. Frank Maynard

    I've seen this woman on talk shows, intellectually dishonest and a real flake. I can't speak to anything about the labyrinth but it doesn't matter, I always consider the source, in this case I know everything she says is crap, must be pretty easy to get a job at the Washington Post.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  16. WOW

    This woman needs to get some real life exposure and experience–seeing how people live and exist in third world countries–seeing the death and devastation after an earthquake or other natural disaster–visiting terminally ill children–visiting a war zone–walking in a back alley in Queens on a Saturday night–losing her job and her house and running out of money.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  17. W.G.

    This is one of the more stupider articles CNN in their haste to promote anything satanic inspired has done .
    I´m so sick of all this psyco babble BS that people come up with . Magic crystals , oak trees , yoga , mormanism
    islam . Any new age new thing introduced by some freak with a buck on their mind and green tea on their Breath .
    It makes me sick . "Oh"! "It´s gotta be exotic "! " Oh, Oh look at me "! "You can by this robe and chain and finger cymbals
    at my shop and look as stupid as I do "! There is a God His name is Jesus , He´s has a book called the Bible that if
    READ PROPERLY can show you a whole new world . This book the Bible has proven to be so true talking about cities
    archeologist are just now finding and How Jesus would die by crucifixion thousands of years before there were the Romans who in vented it and how His people would reject Him but how the world would accept him . Read all about
    it and turn away from these diversions from truth .

    October 9, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • Nancy

      I don't listen to angry people.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • Frank Maynard

      I do believe if I was an almighty power and I had an instruction book I left behind for my followers I'd make it clear and not so friggin open to interpretation, READ PROPERLY, ha, according to yYOU right, because yYOU are the one that has it all figured out, you really think that is anything different than what this whack job is doing. I'll pray for you.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Peace2All

      @W.G.

      I know, I know... -WG, it's hard when 'you' have 'THE TRUTH' and everyone else is wrong, eh...? 😯

      Peace...

      October 9, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Aezell

      Lol let me sum up your rant of utter stupidity for you: "All those other religions are ridiculous, but MY religion that believes in magical talking animals and pretend invisible people in the sky is TRUE!"

      October 9, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Bucko

      W.G. Unfortunately your narrow-minded and rather uninspired ideas are the primary reason most folks are turning away from organized Christianity. That is truly unfortunate because Christianity, true Christianity rather than the senseless brand you offer, has a great deal to offer the world.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • W.G.

      To Frank Maynard and Nancy , I never said I had all the answers and I´m not angry I´m just tired of Hucksters that
      come along and try to promote something like this . Like this is the answer to life . The Bible is not open to a number
      of interpretations it´s the wolves in sheeps clothing that come along and do that . I don´t have it all figured out and I by
      no means am perfect . But this follow anything new and distraction from the truth should be exposed as BS , pure BS
      and don´t pray for me . I don´t accept or want prayers from people that don´t believe in truth .

      October 9, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • Peace2All

      @W.G.

      Please see my post above to you... 'again.'

      Peace...

      October 9, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  18. RealityCheck

    "Yet I can spend 15 or 20 minutes on the labyrinth and solve everything."

    Why don't you spend 24 hours a day there and save the world from more of your nonsense?

    October 9, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • Bucko

      Sounds like you need a "reality check" as well. Must be nice to have everything figured out. Please share your truth with us so we can all understand.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  19. JAMES C FAWCETT

    Some people will tell you any bunch of crap to sell a book. she's right up there with Tony Robbins, Kevin Trudeau, Wayne Dyer and other known scam artists!

    October 9, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  20. CJP

    It's nice to see a lot of people spouting off their intolerance and negativity and criticism. You gotta love America for being a place of acceptance and understanding. We are definitely a unified group of people.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • RealityCheck

      Yeah.... just like CJP says.... the rest of the world is perfect.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • Peace2All

      Well... I think you gotta' love our country's 1st amendment right to 'freedom of speech.'

      Everyone gets to state their opinions... right, wrong or indifferent, intolerant, etc...

      Sure, the 'negativity and criticism' doesn't make a whole lotta' sense to me, either... however, it is still their right to express opinions, just like we get to.

      Peace...

      October 9, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • jd

      It is a bit nauseating how mean and disgusting posters can be. They were probably the school bullies when they were children. Everyone has a right to their own beliefs. Nobody forced them to read this article.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:26 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.